Scientists from the University of Washington and Barnes-Jewish Hospital have developed a high-tech device that can detect the success of chemotherapy for breast cancer patients in just five seconds.
The hand-held device, resembling a showerhead, scans over the tumor site to detect small changes that indicate whether a tumor is responding to chemotherapy drugs after just one session of treatment.
This breakthrough means that women who show no early signs of improvement can be switched to other drugs or treatments. This avoids the unnecessary and toxic side effects of chemotherapy.
Most patients undergoing chemotherapy have to endure several weeks or possibly months of treatment, with debilitating side effects such as nausea, complete hair loss, and extreme fatigue, before it is discovered whether or not the tumor has shrunk.
The new technology can reduce this time to a few hours; This allows doctors to try other combinations of chemotherapy or surgery sooner in an effort to stop the spread of cancer, and there may be a wait of weeks or months to see if the drugs are working.
It is reported that up to 55,000 women are diagnosed annually in the UK with breast cancer, and chemotherapy is often given before surgery to shrink the size of tumors and facilitate their removal, as well as reduce the chances of a patient needing a mastectomy, but it is also used routinely after surgery to eliminate off any remaining cancer cells.
Doctors currently track the success of chemotherapy using a combination of blood tests, X-rays, and computed tomography (a type of 3-D X-ray), but this can take a long time, and changes in tumor size or structure are not always obvious.
But the new five-second scan is not only fast but extremely detailed. When the device is passed over the breast, it sends sound waves and infrared light into the tissue, and tiny sensors in the device instantly measure the rate of reflection of sound and light, producing an image that reveals subtle changes in the tumor.
Any disturbance in these reflexes indicates that the cancer is still active. For example, readings can show whether the tiny blood vessels that appear around a tumor are disappearing, or growing more quickly, after just one session of chemotherapy.
Scientists tested the device on 38 women diagnosed with breast cancer, and the results, which were recently published in the Journal of Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, showed that it was very accurate in predicting tumors that respond well to chemotherapy.